Sorry, this was meant to be a quick synopsis of something interesting that clicked with me, instead this has turned into a long written ramble.
Having mentioned Nietzsche twice within a short period of time I realize that I have no set and clear idea about his philosophy.
Was he an atheist? He grew up a believer and he grew to believe we – humankind – had killed God, asking “who will wipe the blood from our hands?”. It does not appear from this that he applauded such state of existence, but he anticipated a crisis of proportions never experienced before, and with terrifying consequences for the society that is humankind.
Do moral values vanish with the disapperance of a set of supposedly divine rules? The loss of moral and religious beliefs would create a vacuum, Nietzsche believed. What has grown in its place?
What are we being left with? The fundamental responsibility of mastering our own faiths, liberated or condemned to create our own values.
Value for money seems to be a mainstream rule. And most companies boast a ‘philosophy’ on their websites and in image brochures, that is mainly founded on marketing principles. Value, too often it seems, is being used synonymously with “cheap”. Freedom, however, always comes at a high price. To be free of a divine order maybe more so.
Nietzsche himself experienced his passionate faith crumble due to early death of his beloved father due a brain disease. The unendurable pain suffered by the patient and his undignified, horrific end did not seem to tally with the actions of an all-loving, all-knowing god.
Still, he enrolled as a student of theology, however, critical studies of the Bible came to make him accept less of the myth and caused a rift within his family.
Religion’s focus on the afterlife – he argued, was unhealthy, as it made you disconnected from the here and now, the world, life and its inherent value and sublime meaning.
Contentment, peace of mind and happiness to Nietzsche seemed concepts juxtaposed to the truth and the search for truth. Salvation in the afterlife no longer being the objective there had to be another meaning.
The rise of science, logic and the search for objective truths to his mind were not the solution. To Nietzsche this was a form of deprivation in itself.
At age 21 Nietzsche becomes influenced by Schopenhauer’s “The world as will and idea” – describing the ever unfulfilled desire and discontent of the individual, with his nihilistic view of “best not to be born at all”, advising you not to strive for happiness and to get through life with as little pain as possible, Schopenhauer does not break the circle of suffering.
Nietzsche did not draw the same conclusions as Schopenhauer, but wanted to find life-affirming conclusions despite the suffering life holds in stock for us all. Without the cushy comfort of salvation and no reward in a life after death, life itself became the value.
Not the individual hero transcends suffering but in group experiences the individual is lost in an ecstatic collective affirmation of life. Musical performances, like Richard Wagner’s, seemed to prove his point – while the friendship between philosopher and composer lasted, at least.
Quintessentially Nietzsches formed belief is: You are not to avoid suffering, but should risk suffering and overcome it, embrace it as well as your life choices, failures and all. Even if you had to relive the sad moments in your life over and over, they thus would become a life affirming action.
Personally, his broken heart apparently was to turn to be the milestone by which to test his own theory. And rightly so, in the wake of a romance not to be he wrote his parabel of self-overcoming “Thus spoke Zarathustra”, on how one is to live as a human.
Happiness is not the opposite of suffering, but suffering through your set task, overcoming obstacles.
From then onwards the loss of and search for a new meaning of life were no longer his goal but the question “What values can exist?” in the aftermath of what he had considered to be the death of God. Christian values it appears, to him were expressions of self-hatred and a slave morality that would endanger the future of humankind. Morality, meekness, humility, poverty, compassion only brought forward mediocrity and “herd happiness” worthy only of animals. Obsession with these values would only spark contentment. The achievement of selfish people were what drove people, culture and societies to peak developments.
You could argue that we have nearly peaked selfish individual behaviour with droves of products called i-something-or-other, selfies and self-marketing (like this blog, for example), not to shine a torch on individual selfie mememe-behaviour. Hardly a sustainable development in the long run.
Society has not broken down. Not yet, at any rate. But we may need some new, old, borrowed and blue additional beams to hold up the structure. Compassion does not sound the worst of values, as long as it does not lock the subject of compassion in a grip of continued dependance. But this, by my definition, would not have been compassion in the first place, but merely white whashed calculation.
If Nietzsche thought in his time that moral values needed a revision, what would he make of the current situation? He had dreaded the void left by previous values now predicted absent.
And he foresaw the possibility of a future peopled by what he called “the last men” – men and women whose sole concern was the trivial and mundane, leading lifes of timid mediocrity, worhipping a religion of comfortableness. Are we nearly there, yet?
Nietzsche’s last sane act is said to be that he threw his arms around a severely beaten horse’s neck in a Turin market place – an act of the very compassion he so despised.
This image, even if I forget everything else I read and heard about his person, and even if it may draw a simplified picture, to me is the most important thing about him: His compassion for another sentient being and actively wanting to ease that suffering, and for the suffering to cease.